The New Playground: Part 1

Technology and the Lives of our Kids

Read part 2 of this series here.

I remember a fort I built with my buddies in my hometown of Delightful, Ohio. I was probably 10 years old.
The fort was about 6 feet up a maple tree. It was one of many we built from the lumber we found behind my friend’s barn and it was held together with nails we took from his dad’s workbench. I think his dad was okay with it. But I’m not sure.

We built bike trails and jumps. We built booby traps and threw rocks at geese. We fell out of trees and played war with BB guns. We ate things we shouldn’t have eaten and explored buildings we shouldn’t have been in. We kept secrets from our parents... the kinds of secrets that would have gotten us into the kind of trouble that kids should be getting into. If I ate, it would be at whoever’s house I was closest to. Sometimes I drank water from a pond. I’d leave my house in the morning. I wouldn’t come home until dinnertime. I was always dirty and scraped up, always fighting poison ivy and rarely accessing indoor plumbing.

That’s what it was like then.

Those woods...the forts...the dirt mounds and cornfields, they were my playground.

I was all but locked out of my house. And I was free to wander.

Now there’s a new playground.

The new playground

The new playground gives kids the chance to do much of what the old one did. They can still play war. They can still build forts. They can laugh and create and build. They can discover new things and play make-believe. They can disappear for a whole day and still come back for dinner.

They can explore places they shouldn’t be. They can wander.

And they do it all in a digital world.

But are they coming back? And what have they encountered while they’ve been away?

The playground I grew up playing on scraped up my knees. The playground my children are being invited to can scrape their souls. It can easily leave them different. It can quench their love for learning and make them immobile. It easily removes their God-given desire for love to give them a cheap and dangerous substitute. It can quickly replace good thinking with quick fixes and inspiration with something that is “good-enough.”

This has really turned into a rather dismal conversation: Beware! Technology is the end of family. Keep your kids away!

It’s not that. It’s not that at all.

I can’t ethically treat technology as the enemy. It’s no more the enemy than anything else in my life that requires restraint. My car isn’t dangerous unless I’m using it carelessly...or allowing a child to use it carelessly. The same could be said of a gun (though I am not seeking to use this platform to make politically- charged statements).

There’s a difference between calling something dangerous and acknowledging the potential danger in it.

I’m not an expert on the effects of technology on a person’s brain. I haven’t researched the neurological impact of technology exposure at certain ages. Lots of people have. I’ve read some of their research and find their conclusions terrifying. We don’t really know what the long-term effects are to this new playground. But the research makes me wonder if we are turning our children's brains to gravy.

I’ve seen and heard suggestions on confronting this. Some try to adopt a lifestyle from a more unplugged era, when technology was present but not so potentially harmful. Some try to remove technology from their homes and their children’s lives completely. Some treat technology like a babysitter. Some like the enemy.

But if we’re going to confront it well, here’s what we need to consider:

My parents could always find my forts. They knew enough about my playground that I was never too far-gone. They warned me against going to certain places. They reminded me of the people’s houses I should stay out of and the certain people I should avoid. Even if I felt completely independent, I really wasn’t. They knew my playground. If they needed me home and I wasn’t responding to their calls, it didn’t take long for them to find me. Because they knew where to look...because they knew the landscape and layout of my playground.

What about our children? Do we know the landscape of their playground? Do we know where their forts and trails are, where they’re disappearing to?

Certainly there are good things to discover.

This isn't a discussion about whether technology is good or bad. Because it's neither. And it's not a discussion about whether or not you should allow your children to use technology. Because I'm not qualified to speak on that in your family.

But what we must do is treat this playground like we would any other.

We must know it. We must educate our children about the dangers and protect them from the pitfalls they don't know to avoid. We must be aware of the places they should stay away from and equip them with the tools they need to find their way. We must provide them with a safe path home if they ever get in over their heads and we must never trust the playground to look out for them for us. We must be diligent and never stop coming to find them if they aren’t responding to our calls.

And maybe we could teach them about these things...about their playground...while helping them build an actual fort.

Written by Andrew Hofstetter

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